It shouldn't come as a surprise to learn that the Trump administration isn't a major defender of animal rights -- after all, the president doesn't even have any pets. In the latest anti-animal move, the United States Department of Agriculture has announced plans to withdraw a rule related to organic standards for laying hens.
Apparently the USDA doesn't think poultry welfare matters to consumers with certain expectations of the organic label.
The full USDA organic standards require farmers to adhere to a variety of environmental and agricultural practices. And these regulations are constantly evolving -- as was the case with this rule, which clarified the definition of outdoor "access." When consumers hear that phrase, they probably envision happy hens clucking away in a pasture, free to come and go between the outdoors and their coop. In reality, some unscrupulous farmers have "met" this standard with tiny enclosed porches.
The Obama administration thought this was a sneaky exploitation of a loophole. And so did many organic farmers, who argued that clarifying the standard would level the playing field and ensure that even industrial organic facilities would have to comply with the original intent of this animal welfare standard.
The result was a firmer rule that clearly defined "outdoors" and contained provisions to ban debeaking, as well as other cruel "physical alterations."
Under Trump, who has pressured all federal agencies to reduce regulation, the USDA delayed final implementation of the rule on multiple occasions. And much to the delight of industrial agriculture, the agency has since concluded that the rule is "overreach" and would create an "undue burden" on farmers by potentially stifling innovation.
Meanwhile, organic farmers and animal welfare groups disagree, insisting that consumers want more oversight to ensure that their food is safe and ethically produced.
If you're an egg consumer in the United States, you have a personal vested interest in this fight, and that goes double if you're an animal lover -- whether or not you eat eggs. Consumers have repeatedly demonstrated that they're willing to pay more money for ethical products, and that's driven a lively "greenwashing" market. A tough organic standard benefits small farmers who are complying with the environmental and animal welfare requirements.
At this time, the USDA has issued an intent to withdraw the rule, but the agency is required to hold a 30-day comment period. You can submit a formal comment online at the Federal Register through January 17, 2018.
It doesn't have to be fancy! Just explain why organic poultry standards matter to you, and why you think it's important for chickens to have true access to the outdoors -- as well as freedom from cruel procedures like debeaking.
Tell the USDA that consumers want humane eggs by signing this Care2 petition.